Measures to protect from ‘offensive imagery’ to be considered

Harris says abortion services will be available irrespective of ability to pay and geography

An anti-abortion campaigner protesting in Belfast earlier this month. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

An anti-abortion campaigner protesting in Belfast earlier this month. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

The Department of Health has been asked to consider measures to protect people from offensive imagery outside maternity hospitals and other health facilities in drafting the legislation on abortion.

Minister for Health Simon Harris also said there would be equitable access to abortion services regardless of someone’s ability to pay or geographic location.

He was speaking at the ‘Women Making History’ event hosted by the National Women’s Council of Ireland in Dublin on Thursday.

The NWCI said the resounding Yes vote in the May 25th referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution showed that people in Ireland wanted “women-centred abortion services”.

Director of the council Orla O’Connor said the referendum had “changed Ireland”.

“This was a campaign run by women across the country, led by women, for women. A remarkable mobilisation for women’s health and equality on the ground and online, translated into a landslide win in the ballot box that no one predicted.”

Ms O’Connor said the electorate had “once again looked past fake news, and overwhelmingly demonstrated support for equality”.

She said that as discussion is now focused on the legislation, there were important factors in ensuring women had timely access to the care they needed.

“Cost cannot prevent a woman from accessing abortion. Services should be publicly-funded and available through our public health system, with appropriate funding,” she said.

Timely access

Recent reports of possible costs to women for the service, of up to €300, were prohibitive and would likely mean continued use of medication ordered online.

“The legislation must include a provision to guarantee entitlement to timely access to services, and to ensure that women who seek abortion are not subject to discrimination on any grounds,” she said.

“This will require explicit guidance on how to ensure timely access for disadvantaged women, including migrant women, women experiencing intimate partner violence and women with disabilities.”

She said it was important to restate that conscientious objection “must respect the rights of the pregnant woman and protect them from judgment from medical providers with objections”.

Mr Harris said it was his “clear intention” to have the legislation on the termination of pregnancy finalised in July and commenced by January 2019.

He said current challenges to the referendum result before the courts may mean a delay in progressing the legislation through the Oireachtas but that while this process was ongoing, officials from his Department and the office of the Attorney General were meeting regularly to progress the drafting of the Bill.

Exclusion zones

Mr Harris said the Government would implement the ancillary recommendations made by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, including a broad programme of women’s health services available in community care settings delivered by doctors, nurses and midwives, and the network of crisis pregnancy counsellors.

With regard to services to be provided under the legislation, there would be “equitable access regardless of ability to pay or geographic location”.

Mr Harris said conscientious objection would be facilitated but “it cannot be contemplated that there would not be appropriate referral in these circumstances and we will ensure that there will be”.

He said he was not usually in favour of exclusion but he saw “all too blatantly” the need for exclusion zones to protect people accessing services from “the kind of offensive imagery we have seen continue to be displayed in recent weeks”.

He had asked his department to consider the legislative measures required to ensure that maternity hospitals or any other providers of women’s health care would not be subject to that kind of offensive imagery.